Monday, June 14, 2010

BASI-VIRK: Defence alleges Premier's top aide threatened cabinet job of Transporation Minister, staged Open Cabinet meeting, Vaughn Palmer's influence

David Basi and his lawyer Michael Bolton outside BC Supreme Court, April 2010

More controversial questions for and testimony from Martyn Brown - Premier Gordon Campbell's Chief of Staff - from defence cross examination Thursday June 10 in BC Supreme Court

The highlights of Martyn Brown's testimony have already been published at this blog Thursday but much, much more evidence was given that day - here are a few of the more newsworthy and amusing exchanges.

Brown denied allegations from defence lawyer Kevin McCullough - representing accused former BC Liberal government ministerial assistant Bob Virk - that he had "screamed" at Virk by phone that then-Transporation Minister Judith Reid had "exasperated" Premier Gordon Campbell and that if the "weak minister" didn't improve she'd be out of cabinet.

McCullough said the event followed a televised "Open Cabinet" meeting that he alleged was actually rehearsed the night before - something Brown admitted.

McCullough: "Do you recall Gordon Campbell correcting Judith Reid at an Open Cabinet meeting?"

Brown: "No."

McCullough: "Do you recall Gordon Campbell getting fed up with Judith Reid?"

Brown: "No - Judith Reid was an excellent minister."

McCullough: "Do you recall a column from Vaughn Palmer [of the Vancouver Sun] drawing attentiong to that?"

Brown: "No."

McCullough: "Media monitoring - that was part of your job?"

Brown: "Part of it - not hour to hour, minute to minute issues management. Media monitoring people advise us of issues by the hour."

McCullough: "I'm going to suggest to you that you told Mr. Virk and other ministerial assistant that Vaughn Palmer's colums get read by everybody, so know what they say?"

Brown: "I may have. I do read Vaughn Palmer regularly."

McCullough: "I'm going to show you an article - perhaps it will jog your memory. Take your time to read it - it's not long - two pages."

After giving Brown time to read, McCullough continued: "Palmer is writing about the clear exasperation of the premier with Ms. Reid about tolls, BC Rail..."

Brown: "It's not the first time Mr. Palmer has interpreted things in a way we disagree with. It's Mr. Palmer's take on it - that's what columnists do."

"I can tell you he [Campbell] was rarely exasperated."

McCullough: Did you call Mr. Virk on his cell phone and scream at thim to come in about something Ms. Reid said?"

Brown: "I can tell you I never screamed at Mr. Virk to come in and talk to me. That's an unfair characterization.

McCullough: "Did you say Ms Reid is a weak minister?"

Brown: "I never characterized her that way.....I try to be respectful of ministers."

McCullough: "Who appointed Bob Virk?"

Brown: "I did."

McCullough: "Transportation was a very political ministry - you were selling BC Rail and had problems with BC Ferries."

Brown: "We weren't selling BC Rail and the problems with BC Ferries we inherited from the previous government."

McCullough: "Did you ever tell anyone else Judith Reid was a weak minister?"

Brown: "I don't recall saying that to anyone else?"

McCullough: "Are you saying you deny that?"

Brown: "I dont' think I ever said that and in my mind I don't believe I ever would have said that."

McCullough: "Are you really sure Mr. Brown?"

Brown: "I'm as sure as I just said."

The testy nature of that exchange was missing from an earlier discussion of the reason for the Open Cabinet meetings - an innovation of the first BC Liberal term that disappeared soon after the second term began in 2005.

McCullough asked Brown about why the Open Cabinet meetings were held - televised on the government's website.

"It wasn't wildly received by the media, to put it bluntlly, but we promised it so we did it," Brown replied. "It was for transparency and fulsome understanding, naively perhaps."

McCullough: "But the media didn't believe it?"

Brown: "I think many people didn't believe it, not just the media."

McCullough: "The night before the open cabinet meeting did you have a practice session?"

Brown: "Yes. The reason for that - there was a bit of a practice session because it was a new concept. There was a bit of a question as to what you could say in public. We wanted it to reflect well on the government."

McCullough: "Was BC Rail intended to be discussed at Open Cabinet?"

Brown: "I don't know. I don't remember."

At this point BC Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Anne MacKenzie interrupted the proceedings to address Bob Virk personally.

"Mr. Virk, please stop nodding your head," MacKenzie admonished.

Then the jury was excused from the courtroom and legal argument ensued that I cannot report due to MacKenzie's publication ban on anything that happens without the jury present.

When the jury returned, MacKenzie addressed them:

"Just before we broke you heard me ask Mr. Virk to stop nodding his not infer anything from that," she said.

McCullough returned to cross examination: "Wasn't that the intention - to discuss BC Rail at an Open Cabinet meeting?

Brown: "Yes."

McCullough: "Was that done?"

Brown: "No."

Brown explained that instead the government decided Premier Gordon Campbell would do a television address to the province.

Brown: "We wanted through television to speak directly to the public in an unmediated way [about BC Rail]."

McCullough: "Did you discuss with Mr. Virk the problems of discussing BC Rail in Open Cabinet?"

Brown: "I may have - I don't recall that conversation."

McCullough then moved on to the unprecedented police raid on the BC Legislature seeking information to charge David Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi with corruption-related crimes.

McCullough: "After the Legislature was raided December 28, 2003, did you ever sit down with Gordon Campbell and [then-Finance Minister] Gary Collins and discuss how it would go?"

Brown: "I think it's fair to say on more than one occasion I discussed with Mr. Campbell and Mr. Collins what would not be appropriate to say, because we did not want to do anything to interfere wit the investigation."

McCullough: "Do you recall whether Gary Collins ever discussed with you what he was asked by police?"

Brown: "No....I didn't get interviewed by the police until June 2004."

McCullough: "Did you discuss the police interview with Mr. [Chris] Trumpy? [then a senior deputy minister involved in the BC Rail sale]

Brown: "We discussed the cancellation of the [BC Rail] Port Subdivision [privatization] bid because confidential information had been leaked."

And so it went - with McCullough drawing many memory blanks from Brown about what happened seven years ago but also at times significant details from the premier's top aide since he was elected to govern the province.

As likely the only other person in the room who has worked in the premier's office - I was Communications Director to NDP Premier Glen Clark in 1996 - I found it astonishing that Brown did not know about the long term profitability of BC Rail - discussed in the earlier story on this blog - for more than 20 years.

The biggest privatization in BC history. A deal worth $1 billion. Premier Campbell reversing the reversal of his ill-fated 1996 campaign promise that he would sell BC Rail - that in part cost him the election. Campbell promised in 2001 that he had learned his lesson - and would not sell BC Rail after all - then did it right after the election anyway.

And through all of this, Martyn Brown - his chief political advisor on the most important political issue in the province - has no idea about the state of BC Rail's books? Not a clue that it made money?

I would suggest there are three possible explanations:

1) Mr. Brown suffers from undiagnosed amnesia;

2) Mr. Brown is the most incompetent Chief of Staff to a BC Premier ever.

3) Something else.

The trial continues today - Monday - and I'm heading there right now for more.



Anonymous said...


I think that the answer to the three parts question is c)
SOMETHING ELSE - hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhm!!


kootcoot said...

Bill, I pick number 3 - "something else."

And of course that something else is the only thing you can't accuse another member of doing in the Legislature, although from reading Hansard, it is apparent that it happens almost everyday.

Anonymous said...

I love you BILL.

G West said...

. Definitely (c) - Something else.

And, if we were playing Jeopardy I think we could safely suggest a question that would point to what that 'something else' is.

What is Martyn Brown hiding from the public and the courts - that he knows full well - relative to the involvement of the man he works for in the corrupt 'sale' of BC Rail to CN?

Anonymous said...

More interesting was the issues around the Northern Caucus and how they were reviewing the BC Rail information and the relationships between Brian Kieran and Pat Bell, Shirley Bond and the Mayor of Prince George Colin Kinsley.

Other questions considered that there would be a "revolt" of the Northern Caucus regarding the sale of BC Rail.

Sounds very much like a possible revolt on the HST.

kootcoot said...

It would seem that even when his memory works (a rare event) Mr. Brown has trouble with the truth. Otherwise how does one explain this statement in court "under oath?"

"Brown: "We weren't selling BC Rail"

Or are we playing word games here?If they weren't selling BC Rail, what was the supposed ONE BILLION dollars from that Dallas based railroad company all about, just another campaign donation?

Justice MacKenzie, when do you actually say something to Mr. Brown about his difficulty with the truth? I mean you can't be so petty about Virk or defense counsel nodding or letting their eyes roll yet ignore this obvious evasion and/or perjury, or is your courtroom so corrupt that it doesn't matter and you can do whatever you want with no requirement for fair play or due process?

When does the hammer come down, or does it only come down on Basi, Basi, Virk or their counsel?

I know the white haired prevaricator is the Premier of the province (shudder) but he isn't God and the duty of the justice system isn't to protect him at all costs!

Anonymous said...

Good reporting Bill. Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

And speaking of SOMETHING ELSE!

I also find it fascinating that the headline says No drinking in government offices but the story says Mr Brown cannot recall drinking in the premier's office.

RECALL! - a big topic in BC these, eh?

Anonymous said...

I'll take C for a billion Alex!